I have limited experience of living on my own. The closest I ever came to it was when I had a guest professorship in Finland and commuted, spending half of the week there. I had a minimal household, but made sure I had proper meals and tidied up the flat.
From the very first day in the Gatehouse, I set up Gatehouse rules. (You may have read Ciderhouse Rules; that what I am alluding to). Here they are:
make the bed
don't eat takeaway
eat meals sitting down
don't go around in clothes you don't want to be seen in
keep private and professional apart
All sounds elementary, but these rules are necessary to keep me sane. I believe it's easy to slide down if you don't keep them. And there isn't much in my habits I need to change.
For instance, making the bed has always been imperative to me. I have always told my children that if I stop making the bed they will know that something is profoundly wrong. I believe this comes from my childhood when nobody had proper bedrooms but were sleeping in sofa beds in multi-purpose rooms. I was twenty-nine before I had a bedroom.
When I got my super-special super-expensive bed – thanks to my sons who persuaded me that, given I spend a third of my life in bed, it isn't a luxury but a necessity – I thought it deserved a pretty bedspread, and I even bought a pair of matching pillowcases that are just for show. For show, when it's just me? All the more so, believe me. I feel glad every time I enter my bedroom.
I have always eaten cooked meals, and I don't see why I should change now. When the children were small we used to get meals from McDonald’s or a Chinese takeaway every now and then as a treat, and of course we bought ready meals because it was easy, but since the children grew up, freshly cooked meals were the norm. I like cooking, but the past ten years here in Cambridge I have been away at work more than previously, and it was nice to come home to a warm meal and a set table. This is important to me: set the table properly, with a placemat, cutlery, napkin; serve the meal on a nice, warm plate; light candles; no reading, no surfing; enjoy your meal even if you are on your own. No eating at the kitchen counter, no eating sandwiches and absolutely no eating ready meals or takeaways. I love food, and I don't see why I should enjoy it less just because it is just me.
Washing up is essential. This is one of the things my evil mother taught me: when you are cooking, wash up everything as you go, don't make a mess. I didn't even know there was such a thing as a dishwasher until I came to Sweden. And in some places where I lived there wasn't any warm water.
(Some time I will write about how I worked in a communal kitchen during so called “student volunteer agricultural assistance”, read forced labour).
I was once invited to a friend's for dinner, and their kitchen was piled with filthy dishes – not just in the sink, but everywhere. I didn't enjoy the dinner very much.
Here in Gatehouse, just one morning I was in a hurry and left my breakfast crockery unwashed, and I was utterly disgusted when I came home. Then of course there is much less washing up after one person. Not just half, but significantly less. I cannot explain it. It's also significantly less garbage after one person.
I have never allowed myself to wear torn or dirty clothes at home. I don't wear my best, and I like soft trousers and loose sweatshirts. I eat breakfast in my nice, fluffy dressing gown, but then I put on decent clothes even if I am not going anywhere. I believe I buy more clothes to wear at home than formal or festive clothes.
So really, the only new rule is keeping personal and professional apart. It is tempting to play an old-fashioned professor residing in college and to invite students for supervisions, but I won't. I will invite them – have already invited them – for tea, but as friends, not as students. I have previously invited them for Lucia and Midsummer parties. (Now that I think of it, this year's Midsummer party was the last one ever, but I didn't know it then).
A dinner for one
To be continued.